Abortion and Divorce in Western Law

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Harvard University Press, 1987 - Law - 197 pages
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What can abortion and divorce laws in other countries teach Americans about these thorny issues? In this incisive new book, noted legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon looks at the experiences of twenty Western nations, including the United States, and shows how they differ, subtly but profoundly, from one another. Her findings challenge many widely held American beliefs. She reveals, for example, that a compromise on the abortion question is not only possible but typical, even in societies that are deeply divided on the matter. Regarding divorce, the extensive reliance on judicial discretion in the United States is not the best way to achieve fairness in arranging child support, spousal maintenance, or division of property‚e"to judge by the experience of other countries. Glendon's analysis, by searching out alternatives to current U.S. practice, identities new possibilities of reform in these areas. After the late 1960s abortion and divorce became more readily available throughout the West‚e"and most readily in this country‚e"but the approach of American law has been anomalous. Compared with other Western nations, the United States permits less regulation of abortion in the interest of the fetus, provides less public support for maternity and child-rearing, and does less to mitigate the economic hardships of divorce through public assistance or enforcement of private obligations of support.

Glendon looks at these and more profound differences in the light of a powerful new method of legal interpretation. She sees each country's laws as part of a symbol-creating system that yields a distinctive portrait of individuals, human life, and relations between men and women, parents and children, families and larger communities. American law, more than that of other countries, employs a rhetoric of rights, individual liberty, and tolerance for diversity that, unchecked, contributes to the fragmentation of community and its values. Contemporary U.S. family law embodies a narrative about divorce, abortion, and dependency that is probably not the story most Americans would want to tell about these sad and complex matters but that is recognizably related to many of their most cherished ideals.


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The first review of this book had absolutely nothing to do with the book. It gave it one star based on the author's religious views about Catholics. Since when did the content and quality of a book have anything to do with whether the author is behind the reviewer's political views in some other area? Why is Google letting bigotry affect rankings?
This is a great book. The main problem with the abortion debate in America is that everyone has an opinion, but almost no one knows anything about abortion law. By surveying western democracies and fairly explaining how each of them came to their abortion laws, the author shows something amazing: even in anti-abortion countries, if you let the legislative process work, you get to an accommodation that spares societies the decades of acrimony the United States has had by judicially trying to close off debate on a political topic by falsely claiming that the U.S. Constitution says something about abortion, Ireland, Spain, and other countries have moved on. The U.S. hasn't. This book makes it pretty clear why that is. It's exactly the sort of in depth research that ought to inform people on both sides of the issue, and I'm confident that if honest people read this book with an open mind, it would reshape how many of them think. It might not change their minds, but it would allow them to better frame the debate in a way that might get us somewhere someday.
The divorce law part of the book is also very interesting. The analysis of "no fault" divorce needs to be understood because too many people figure that the way things are is the way things are, and in point of fact, the way things are here is not the way they have been, could be, or are elsewhere. Given the impact of astonishingly easy to get divorces on society, there ought to be discussion of whether our family law is what it should be, or whether it needs repair. Principled people will want to argue based on facts, not opinions (basing on opinion on an opinion is both dreadful and common), and this book provides a wealth of background on family law, in an accessible manner, that is just hard to find anywhere else.
I've never understood why this book isn't widely read. It ought to be part of the intellectual background of every educated American.

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An Open Letter to Mary Ann Glendon
You once wrote “… privacy …gives women the freedom of choice concerning abortion.” If you really believe this, then why can you not grant the same respect and
presumption of good faith to our president and Notre Dame? You claimed that a primary reason for demurring was your inablity to frame your speech. I wish you would change your mind. May I suggest that you speak on this theme? “The need to end the Absoluteness of Male power in the Roman Catholic Church”
You know that if woman had a modicum of real power in the Roman Catholic Church, the bishops “common practice” of transferring predatory, pedophile clergy would never have occurred . You, yourself are an adviser to the Council of Bishops. Would you have silently sat by while these abominable practices flourished among the bishops? BTW those same prelates, using the faux controversy of Pro Choice/Pro Life, now seek to cast the stones of intolerance at others. Just like the hypocrites that they are.
You sound as a person trying to convince yourself of an argument you don’t really believe. Lord Acton, a catholic, re: the obnoxious principle of papal infallibility coined the phrase “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Mary Ann Glendon, I read your book, loved page 52! Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.


Divorce Law
Why the American Difference?
Appendix A Countries Permitting Abortion for Cause

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About the author (1987)

Mary Ann Glendon was born on October 7, 1938, in Pittsfield, Mass. and graduated from the University of Chicago with both J.D. and Master of Comparative Law degrees. She has worked as a criminal defender, a civil rights attorney, and is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. Glendon writes frequently on scholarly matters of the law. In Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, she presents examples of the talk behind laws and rights of citizens, and the actual actions. Hot topics such as flag burning, Indian lands, homosexual acts, and social welfare are covered in-depth in this book, and the difference of opinions versus deeds concerning these topics are discussed as representing a distortion of our true culture and values.

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